Canada Newspaper Advertisement (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Canadian: Newspaper Records  by Ryan Taylor, revised by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

The Post Office, Advertisements and the Newspaper[edit | edit source]

In pioneer days, when transportation was difficult and roads often unpassable, people went to the post office only occasionally. Letters were rare enough, anyway. It was customary for the postmaster to print a list of Unclaimed Letters in the local newspaper.

In this way, word would reach the addressees that they had mail, and they could call in for it. Even if they didn’t see the notice themselves, their neighbours would be bound to, and would pass on the message.

These lists have a very particular genealogical use. While it doesn’t matter that an ancestor got a letter in 1835, the fact that someone was addressing mail to him in the district at that time indicates his presence there.

If you are unsure when a relative arrived in a newly-settled area, this is one clue. These lists are easily spotted in the newspaper (they are often very long) and are also frequently reprinted in local genealogical newsletters.

Finally, the one characteristic every newspaper, old or new, has is the presence of advertisements. These may be of little interest, unless one of our relations ran a business which advertised, in which case a copy of the ad might find its way into the family history. Sometimes the ads will provide a little glimpse into the past, also.

Phipps Restaurant and Bakery
Apples Oranges Lemons Bananas
Strawberries and Celery on Tuesday
(Alberta Star,18 April 1908)

This one-day-a-week treat of the very perishable strawberries, even in April, must have seemed a miracle those who were usually confined to seasonal produce.

Castoria was a castor-oil based laxative for children, widely advertised and used in the between the wars period. One 1935 ad showed a crying child in a public place, and a disapproving older woman saying, “If he were my youngster, I’d use the hairbrush.” Spanking with hairbrushes was supposed to be a usual punishment in those days. The text for the ad said don’t give him a spanking, give him Castoria instead. Laxative as punishment! A laughable idea for the modern mind.

 Patent remedies which made large claims for curing many ills—Beecham’s pills, Carter’s Little Liver Pills, Lydia Pinkham’s, eclectic oil—were the usual way of treating people’s various aches and pains. Whole pages of newspapers might be devoted to their ads, which took forms familiar to us, famous people endorsing them, or personal testimonials from others who had benefited from them.

Some newspapers would include items in the social or local news columns which looked like news but turned out to simply be small ads for patent medicines. An entire page of the six-page Nanaimo Free Press for 22 December 1930 consisted of these ads masquerading as news items.

This brief enough glance at the possibilities of newspapers outside the BMD column should convince even the most dubious researcher that they will be missing a great deal if they do not take advantage of scouring their family’s local publications for information. They are bound to be gratified, and find it fun into the bargain.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Canadian: Newspaper Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.